Generally, large signal or Power Amplifiers are used in the output stages of audio amplifier systems to drive a loudspeaker load. A typical loudspeaker has an impedance of between 4Ω and 8Ω, thus a power amplifier must be able to supply the high peak currents required to drive the low impedance speaker.
One method used to distinguish the electrical characteristics of different types of amplifiers is by “class”, and as such amplifiers are classified according to their circuit configuration and method of operation. Then Amplifier Classes is the term used to differentiate between the different amplifier types.
Amplifier Classes represent the amount of the output signal which varies within the amplifier circuit over one cycle of operation when excited by a sinusoidal input signal. The classification of amplifiers range from entirely linear operation (for use in high-fidelity signal amplification) with very low efficiency, to entirely non-linear (where a faithful signal reproduction is not so important) operation but with a much higher efficiency, while others are a compromise between the two.
Amplifier classes are mainly lumped into two basic groups. The first are the classically controlled conduction angle amplifiers forming the more common amplifier classes of A, B, AB and C, which are defined by the length of their conduction state over some portion of the output waveform, such that the output stage transistor operation lies somewhere between being “fully-ON” and “fully-OFF”.
The second set of amplifiers are the newer so-called “switching” amplifier classes of D, E, F, G, S, T etc, which use digital circuits and pulse width modulation (PWM) to constantly switch the signal between “fully-ON” and “fully-OFF” driving the output hard into the transistors saturation and cut-off regions.
The most commonly constructed amplifier classes are those that are used as audio amplifiers, mainly class A, B, AB and C and to keep things simple, it is these types of amplifier classes we will look at here in more detail.